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I got the surprise of my life when people were complaining about a DR editorial. You mean the BYH column is not the...

A champion for mental health

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Having experienced deep depression firsthand, I now feel a sense of kinship with others who have struggled to overcome the same condition and still battle regularly to remain mentally healthy

As someone who’s in the public eye in a very minor way, it encourages me to know about far more notable individuals than I who have faced depression. Among them are actor and comedian Jim Carrey, the late journalist Mike Wallace, talk show host Ellen Degeneres, actor Jon Hamm and Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps, to name a few.

The fact is that if we suffer an accident or come down with an illness, no one thinks any less of us. We seek proper treatment or therapy, we hopefully get well and we more or less assume everyone’s support and well wishes. But mental issues have an associated stigma that too often cause us not to talk about them or seek help – despite the fact that we all either know someone who struggles with mental health or struggle with it ourselves.

Last week I happened to see a CNN Town Hall broadcast featuring Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who, against long odds, is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The two-term congressman is a former Marine officer and Iraq war veteran who has recently been speaking very openly about his personal struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s his way of introducing his plan to dramatically improve mental health care in America, starting with our veterans but also extending throughout society at large.

Moulton points out that 22 veterans or active-duty service members commit suicide every day and that 50 percent of veterans who struggle with mental health, often including PTSD, don’t seek help. In the wider population, he says, more Americans commit suicide each year than die in car accidents and more than half the adults who struggle with mental illness don’t get the care they need. He highlights data showing that serious mental illness costs America up to $193 billion in lost earnings per year.

Moulton’s plan includes making mental health checkups as routine as physical exams for active duty military personnel and veterans, as well as providing mandatory counseling for all those returning from combat within two weeks of arriving home. The congressman says he would also encourage development of a plan for investment in the Veterans Administration’s mental health program to make it the gold standard in America. (Moulton has stuck with the VA as his primary health care provider.)

Funding annual mental health screenings for every high school student in America is another key component of Moulton’s mental health proposal. Since 2006, the suicide rate among U.S. youth between ages 10 and 17 has increased by more than 70 percent, with mass school shootings and intense social media pressure compounding normal teenage anxiety in producing post-traumatic stress. “Our plan will provide them with regular and unprecedented mental health care, establish the importance of mental health at a young age and, in so doing, hopefully end the mental health sigma among our youth before it has the chance to take root,” writes Moulton.

The Massachusetts congressman also proposes establishing 511 as an easy-to-memorize national mental health crisis hotline number.

While it is extraordinarily unlikely that Moulton will become the 2020 Democratic nominee, and whether one agrees or disagrees with his politics, he has, I believe, already served his country to an incredible degree, both in war and in its aftermath. Let’s hope his mental health proposals somehow gain traction and become part of a larger platform, even if his personal candidacy does not.

 

Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at bgarner2662@gmail.com.

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